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Australia’s Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, has announced a A$60 million (US$43 million) program that will support the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) with their response to COVID-19. This funding is part of the Partnerships for Recovery program under which Australia's development priorities have pivoted to focus on supporting countries in its region in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis.
The ASEAN regional cooperation program will include a partnership working on the detection of COVID-19 in the wastewater of Mekong countries. The funding will also assist in planning for recovery through cooperation in areas such as digital transformation and connectivity, with particular attention to the challenges faced by women and girls. Support will also be provided to assist ASEAN with capacity building and the purchase of medical equipment and supplies for the COVID-19 response.
AstraZeneca, a pharmaceutical company working with the University of Oxford to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, has announced that it will resume trials of a potential vaccine candidate. The trials were temporarily suspended by the UK drug regulator after a patient reported side-effects from the vaccine. So far, up to 18,000 people from the UK, Brazil, South Africa, and the United States have received the vaccine.
The University of Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccine is one of nine candidates being developed under the global COVAX Initiative, which is working to ensure equitable access to any new COVID-19 vaccine. If any of these vaccines are found to be safe, up to 100 million doses will be made available to low- and middle-income economies at just US$3 per dose, through the COVAX Facility.
On September 11, 2020, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, spoke virtually at a United Nations (UN) meeting about the work of the 'Recovering Better for Sustainability' discussion group. This group, co-led by the UK, Rwanda, Fiji, and the EU, explores how countries can create more sustainable, healthier, and more inclusive societies and achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) despite the COVID-19 crisis. In his speech, Ahmad outlined the steps the UK has been taking to support lower-income countries to "build back better". These include:
- Supporting climate-resilient growth, protecting biodiversity, and promoting sustainable ways of living;
- Prioritizing the establishment of strong and resilient health systems, underpinned by universal health coverage; and
- Ensuring no one is left behind with a focus on ensuring girls and vulnerable children continue to learn, even when schools are closed, and are supported to safely get back to school.
Ahmad noted that the UK government will continue to push these priorities in its presidencies of the UN COP26 and G7 next year.
German Development Minister Gerd Müller repeated his call for low-income countries to be guaranteed fair access to an eventual COVID-19 vaccine. Given that low-income countries often experience delayed access to vaccines, Müller emphasized that “it has to be different with the COVID-19 vaccine,” so that people all over the globe can have equitable access to the treatment.
To this end, Müller underscored his support for the EU’s Global Response initiative as well as for the joint effort of the international organizations Gavi, the World Health Organization (WHO), and Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to ensure a fair distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine through the established COVAX Facility.
The European Commission has concluded its exploratory talks with BioNTech-Pfizer, the sixth vaccine manufacturer in its portfolio, on purchasing its COVID-19 vaccine candidate.
The contract with BioNTech-Pfizer is expected to include an initial purchase of 200 million doses with an additional 100 million doses optioned if the vaccine is safe and effective. The contract would also include provisions allowing all EU member states to purchase the vaccine, donate vaccines to low- and middle-income countries, or redirect vaccines to other European countries.
Press release - European Commission
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, launched the first-ever meeting of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) Facilitation Council on September 10, 2020. The Facilitation Council will oversee ACT-A’s work towards creating an end-to-end global solution to addressing the COVID-19 crisis by accelerating the development, regulatory approval, manufacturing, delivery, and equitable allocation of COVID-19 medical tools, such as tests, treatments, and vaccines.
The Facilitation Council is composed of representatives from ACT-A founders, governments, civil society, philanthropy and international organizations. It will provide support, guidance, and knowledge sharing for ACT-A’s delivery partners. During its first meeting, both co-hosts called for a significant scale-up in resources to bridge the funding gap of US$35 billion in ACT-A financing needs.
Press release - European Commission
Richard Maud, Director of the Crawford Leadership Forum at the Australian National University (ANU), has called for an update of Australia's Foreign Policy White Paper. He points to a range of challenges not apparent in 2017 when Australia's current White Paper was issued. Specifically, Maud argues that Australia's development assistance program budget is inadequate for supporting countries in the region in dealing with the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis, despite the fact that supporting the region with its economic recovery from COVID-19 is clearly in Australia's national interest. He expresses concern that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) budget continues to shrink despite growing challenges.
Maud was previously a Deputy Secretary of DFAT.
On September 10, 2020, France took part in the first Facilitation Council meeting of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) initiative, a World Health Organization-led coordination mechanism aiming to provide an equitable global distribution of diagnostics, treatments, and a future vaccine, as well as to strengthen healthcare systems.
France was represented by Clément Beaune, the newly appointed Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs. Other attendees included the presidents of the European Commission, South Africa, and Rwanda, the Norwegian prime minister, and the Director-General of WHO.
France committed €510 million (US$603 million) in May to tackle the pandemic at the global level but has not yet formally joined the COVAX initiative, which aims to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines and guarantee fair and equitable global access.
South Korea's Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) announced that the government has joined the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator as a Facilitation Council member. South Korea is one of the eight countries — US, China, India, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, and Mexico — in the 'market leader group'.
Following their first meeting on September 10, the ACT-Accelerator Facilitation Council issued a statement committing to:
- Providing continued political leadership to promote international support for the ACT-Accelerator;
- Advocating on behalf of ACT-Accelerator to help secure the financial resources necessary to maximize impact; and
- Fulfilling the commitment of leaving no one behind.
The South Korean government and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) announced the plan of action for 2021-2025 to implement the joint vision statement for peace, prosperity, and partnership that was adopted in 2010. The action plan covers five types of cooperation: 1) political and security, 2) economic, 3) socio-cultural, 4) cross-sectoral, and 5) sustainable development.
For cooperation on health, the two parties will strengthen efforts on universal health coverage, cooperate in public health emergency response, exchange information and expertise, and explore cooperation to address emerging health challenges.
Despite the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced that it will terminate its pandemic readiness task force and disburse its functions among various bureaus within the agency. This move comes at the same time as the White House task force has stopped its regular press briefings and as President Trump and many of his aides are downplaying the pandemic ahead of the November elections.
USAID said that some of the functions of the task force will be transferred to a "Covid-19 Readiness Unit" although the details of that initiative remain undefined.
Japan announced that it will provide ¥500 million (US$5 million) for health and medical equipment to strengthen Chile’s response to COVID-19. Chile has one of the highest per-capita infection rates in Latin America.
On September 2, 2020, the Dutch Parliament voted to engage with Dutch medical electronics giant Philips to address ventilator shortages in the Netherlands and to examine how these devices could be made available in low-income countries.
Philips has a surplus of almost 30,000 ventilators due to the premature termination of a contract with the United States. Jesse Klaver, leader of the Dutch green-left party (Groen Links) and one of the members of parliament who proposed the motion said during the debate that the COVID1- crisis "called for global solidarity and if there are additional ventilators the company could give them away to developing countries in need.”
After serious criticism of the decision to cut the PREDICT program (an infectious disease research program that was operating globally, including in Wuhan, China) the Trump administration has announced a new program to build upon PREDICT's work. The new initiative, called Centers for Research in Emerging Infectious Diseases (CREID), will be housed in the National Institutes for Health (NIH) and will receive US$82 million over the next five years.
The PREDICT program was terminated by the Trump administration in October of 2019, just before the outbreak of the global pandemic. In its 10 years of operation under the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the program had identified 1,200 different viruses with the potential to spread globally, including 160 novel coronaviruses. CREID will pick up on the work already done, investigating "how and where viruses and other pathogens emerge from wildlife" and cause disease in people, according to the NIH.
The former CEO of chemical company DSM, Feike Sijbesma, will conclude his work as COVID-19 special envoy for the Dutch government at the end of September 2020. During his time as COVID-19 special envoy, he mapped the developments of possible COVID-19 vaccines and worked to obtain sufficient test capacity.
Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, announced that Australia has made sourcing arrangements with two vaccine suppliers at a potential cost of AU$1.7 billion (US$1.2 billion). Subject to the vaccines' approval for use, Australia will source vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, and by CSL and the University of Queensland. If either team is successful in developing a vaccine, 85 million doses of it will be produced in Melbourne.
The vaccines are being sourced to cover Australia's 25 million population but Morrison indicated that Australia is still committed to ensuring vaccine availability for neighbors in South East Asia and the Pacific. Officials have indicated that additional orders may be donated to other countries or sold at the original price.
The European Commission has appointed Norway and South Africa as co-leaders of the ACT Accelerator. The Access to Covid-19 Tools-Accelerator is a global coalition of states, foundations, research institutions, and health organizations. The coalition members have a common goal of fighting COVID-19 and ensuring the fair distribution of vaccines, test equipment, medicine, and other healthcare services.
Norway's main task will be to continue efforts on mobilization, as well as to advise and support the work under the group's four pillars: diagnostics, therapeutics, vaccines and health system strengthening. The newly appointed co-leads will also define an agenda for further work and contribute to efficient coordination between the various stakeholders. Norway will focus on the potential need for political clarifications that may emerge in future in the efforts to combat the pandemic.
The European Commission and the World Health Organization will continue to host the collaborative framework.
The German government will provide India with 330,000 COVID-19 test kits and 600,000 pieces of protective equipment for medical personnel to slow the spread of the virus.
The support will be financed with €15 million (US$17 million) in funding through the development ministry's (BMZ's) COVID-19 response package. Additionally, short-term loans amounting to €460 million (US$528 million) will be provided to support food provision to 800 million people and to provide interim help for 320 million people who have lost their jobs in the wake of the pandemic, said Development Minister Gerd Müller.
On September 5, 2020, the reported number of COVID-19 infections in India passed the four million mark, making it the country with the third most COVID-19 cases worldwide.
The European Commission (EC) has begun negotiations with a seventh pharmaceutical company, Novavax, to advance the purchase of a potential COVID-19 vaccine.
The EC has already concluded talks with CureVac, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Sanofi-GSK, has signed a contract with AstraZeneca, and is still in negotiations with BioNTech/Pfizer.
During a recently held Council videoconference, most EU health ministers supported topping up the Emergency Support Instrument (the fund the EC is using to pay for down payments on vaccine deals) with an additional €750 million (US$887 million) to respond to the Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides’ call for further funds.
News article - Politico